In the post “Get the most from your miles,” I suggested that using a good award booking service is a great way to get the most value from your miles. Read the comments of that post for reader reviews and recommendations of several award booking services. If you run an award booking service of your own, please feel free to advertise by adding a comment to that same post. Eventually I plan to dig through those comments to create a summary page of award booking services including fees and customer reviews.
Today’s post is a second review of MileValue’s award booking service. In my original review I described a trip that MileValue helped me book, and I did my best to be objective despite having received a discount in exchange for writing the review. Some people took me to task for being too harsh to MileValue. They suggested (probably correctly) that I overcorrected for potential bias by being too negative. Others pointed out that I can’t objectively review award booking services if they know who I am. Surely, they’ll give me better service with the knowledge that I’m likely to write it up. I agree with that too. However, as one reader pointed out, customers would have every right to demand the same level of service that I write about. So, regardless of whether a review like this one is objective, I believe it can be helpful.
My Mom (Mom Miler) and her husband have been planning to visit his son in Asia and to tour Vietnam. Just to keep things interesting, the tour starts in one city and ends in another. Mom Miler has been building up her stash of frequent flyer miles and understandably wanted to use them to fly in luxury for this trip: international business or first class.
I spent some time trying to book Mom Miler’s trip. I started with Delta, but had no luck finding low-level award availability. Next, I moved on to United. Plenty of low level awards seemed to be available, but when I tried to book the flights I ran into several issues. In some cases the trip priced higher than I expected (because I didn’t fully understand the routing rules). Sometimes the web site simply returned an error message. Once, I thought I had a good itinerary and was about to book it when I finally noticed that one of the longest legs was actually in coach. Oops!
MileValue to the rescue
When I suggested that we use an award booking service, Mom Miler readily agreed. We sent the desired itinerary to MileValue to see what he could do. Just as I had, MileValue began with a search for Delta availability. The plan was that I would use my Delta miles and Mom Miler would pay me back with Ultimate Rewards points (at a discount). This way we would get great value from my Delta miles and have the benefit of my Platinum status: free award changes up to 72 hours prior to the trip.
No good SkyTeam (Delta) options opened up, so MileValue turned to United. Unlike me, MileValue knew how to find routes that were actually bookable and he knew how to book them. He sent Mom Miler a list of options. With each option he carefully described the pros and cons. He combined his own experience with Seat Guru research to explain the relative merits of each option. Here’s an excerpt from one of his emails:
These are the two best options. The first is the shortest. It features about 14 hrs in United’s international business class product called BusinessFirst, which I recently flew London to LAX. IT’s a great, long, fully flat bed that you’ll enjoy.
The second routes slightly differently and takes one extra hour. You get about the same amount of time in United BusinessFirst, and you get 7 hours in a Thai A380. The A380 is the newest, biggest plane out there, so a lot of people love flying it. Plus the Thai business class product on the A380 is a flat bed whereas their product on the A330 in the first itinerary is just a big recliner seat.
For people who don’t know the advantages of one flight over another, I thought this was great information! If I had booked the flights myself I would have simply found the best available business class dates and times without regard for the quality of the business class seats.
After a bit of back and forth (including new information about where Mom Miler’s tour ended), Mom Miler picked an itinerary. The itinerary wasn’t bookable online, so MileValue used a trick to avoid what would have been a $50 phone booking fee. He booked one leg online and then called to book the rest. For a total cost of 240K miles and $159.18 in taxes and fees, MileValue had helped Mom Miler book a luxury trip for two from Detroit to Bangkok, Singapore to Hong Kong, and Hong Kong to Detroit.
Mom Miler’s Review
Here’s what Mom Miler had to say about MileValue’s service:
I thought Mile Value provided responsive service. He was quick to respond to questions and always got back to me in a timely manner. This is a strong point and for me very important.
My only complaint/surprise was when I actually booked the flights. He never told be that one of the flights was leaving from Beijing instead of from Tokyo. I thought United made a mistake but it turned out that the Tokyo flight wasn’t available anymore so he booked us from Beijing. [Frequent Miler note: Mom Miler is referring to a layover on her Detroit to Bangkok flight]
Overall, Mom Miler said she would use MileValue again and felt that this was “definitely the way to go.” I agree.
Results by category
Let’s look at how well MileValue lived up to the promise of a good award booking service:
- Better Award Availability. Since United.com does a pretty good job of showing award availability, I’m not sure we gained anything here. This category would be more important if we weren’t able to find low level awards on our own. This isn’t a good or bad rating – it simply didn’t really matter in this instance.
- Save Miles & Money. Mom Miler would have spent at least $1700 per person for coach seats, plus more for flights between cities. By taking advantage of United’s flexible routing rules, MileValue was able to extract maximum value from Mom Miler’s miles. And, as icing on the cake, MileValue saved her $50 in phone booking fees.
- Better flight experience. Mom Miler’s flights begin next year, so it will be a while before we have proof, but I have little doubt that Mom Miler will have better flight experiences than if I had booked the itinerary for her.
- Less Aggravation. There’s no question in my mind here that using MileValue’s service saved me a huge amount of time and aggravation!
If you have had experience with MileValue or other award booking services, please let us know how it went. Did you get good value from the service? Would you use them again?